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When you’re four and Daddy is twenty-eight, heaven is in the passenger seat of a red Jeep going 65 on the highway. When the Jeep has no top, and Daddy’s crying as you head for the airport, you blast Nirvana as loud as possible. Loud, so you don’t ask about his tears. Loud, so you can hear guitar over the screaming wind. Loud, so no one forgets that Daddy is still young, and single. And loud, so you don’t have to think, so you can forget that this will be your first flight.
Technically, this won’t really be my first flight, but my second. It will be short and direct; one hour from Philadelphia to Buffalo, and nothing to cause tears, or worry, except that, at four, I’ll be flying alone.
Security is lacking on this day, in this year, as no one has yet considered the dangers of hijackers, and tall towers. We run to the gate where Daddy signs papers, asks questions, and hands over our green duffel bag. I look up at Daddy, and his eyes are red, but dry. He pulls me aside, and reminds me that I’m to be five for this flight, “not four, five.” If anyone asks me, it’s ok to lie today, not tomorrow, though. Tomorrow I’ll be four again.
When the lady in uniform takes my hand I must leave Daddy. We hug, kiss, and cry. A long hallway leads me onto the plane, and I sit beside an old woman whose smile is that of a Grandmother. The flight attendant gives me cookies, and I chew on the corners as she says how ‘precious’ I am. Grandma asks my age, and I nearly choke. I want to say four, but I remember Daddy and lie to her, ‘I’m five.”
After the plane lands, I wait for the flight attendant to take my hand. Mommy is waiting, blond hair and a smile. She signs papers, asks questions, and this time the green bag is downstairs. My first flight alone is over, but there will be another in a couple weeks, and more in a few months.
When you’re four and your parents are divorced, you don’t realize what is happening. When you board a plane alone, it doesn’t occure to you that this is the first of hundreds. You’re too young to know the independence you’ll gain, the people you’ll meet, or the experiences you’ll acquire.
Four is too young to know what character is, or how courage is gained. Four is too young to know how beautifully words can arrange upon paper, or how distant people and landscapes inspire such language. I sleep on the way home because I’m oblivious to who I’ll become. I’m unaware that in fourteen years, I’ll be a woman. And I’m unaware that, in such a brief time, I’l be ready to travel long distances, leaving both Daddy and Mommy far behind, in pursuit of my future, and in need of change.
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